Like son, like father for WPIAL football coaches
North Allegheny assistant coach Art Walker, with his son, head coach Art Walker.
Avonworth head coach Jason Kekseo and his father, assistant coach Joe Zeglowitsch.
First-year head coach T.J. Wiley (right) and his father, John, the offensive coordinator, on the first day of football practice at Penn-Trafford High School in August.
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Sixty-eight-year-old Tony Ruscitto had triple-bypass heart surgery a year ago and had three stents surgically placed in clogged arteries this August.
So, naturally, he sometimes asks himself why he drives an hour from his home, six days a week to work as an assistant coach for a bunch of high school football players.
Ruscitto's answer to the why question has to do mainly with a father-son bond. Coaching football gives him quality time with his son.
You have heard countless stories of sons playing for their fathers -- and sometimes working as an assistant coach under their fathers. But in the WPIAL, there is an unusually large fraternity where the family coaching tree is now upside down.
Fathers who were longtime high school head coaches are working as assistant coaches for their sons, who are head coaches.
Ruscitto pledged this fraternity six years ago when his son, Jason, became Sto-Rox's head coach. Dad offered right away to be an assistant --and he has not left.
"I thought after a couple years that I might want to try and get a head-coaching job again," Tony Ruscitto said. "But it's a very, very, special, special thing to be able to do something like this with your son."
Art Walker is an assistant coach at North Allegheny for his son, also named Art. Dad was a highly successful head coach for 26 seasons at Mt. Lebanon and Shady Side Academy and can't remember once during those days where a father was an assistant coach for his son. But, in the WPIAL this year, there are six fathers who are former high school head coaches helping their sons.
Another father was a small-college head coach and is an assistant for his son.
Some of the fathers/assistant coaches were very successful head coaches.
• At North Allegheny, Art Walker, 73, coaches the quarterbacks and helps with the offense for his son. Dad also helped his son when the younger Art won two WPIAL titles and a PIAA title at Central Catholic. The elder Walker is a coaching legend, one of only two coaches to win six WPIAL titles, including five at Mt. Lebanon.
• At New Castle, 71-year-old Frank Bongivengo is the quarterbacks and outside linebackers coach for his son, Frank Bongivengo II. The elder Bongivengo coached Shenango from 1965-98 and had a 207-106-12 record.
• At Sto-Rox, Tony Ruscitto coaches running backs, special teams, the junior varsity and is the varsity assistant head coach. He lives in Scenery Hill between Washington and Uniontown, and drives to McKees Rocks for practices and meetings. Tony Ruscitto was a former head coach at eight high schools -- Mon Valley Catholic, Beth-Center, Duquesne, California, Canon-McMillan, South Allegheny, Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward.
• At Avonworth, former Oliver coach Joe Zeglowitsch, 60, helps coach the offense for his stepson, Jason Kekseo. Zeglowitsch coached Oliver for 19 seasons and, in 2006, gave the school their first City League championship in 42 years.
• At Washington, Mike Bosnic uses his father, Mike Sr., to help run the offense. The elder Bosnic, 61, was a head coach at Laurel Highlands and Albert Gallatin.
• At Penn-Trafford, T.J. Wiley is in his first season as head coach, and his offensive coordinator is his 58-year-old father, John. The elder Wiley spent 24 years as a head coach at Danville, Titusville and Clearfield before retiring in 2004.
• At Mt. Lebanon, head coach Chris Haering is being helped by his 73-year-old father, Chuck, a former coach at a Division II college in Colorado. Chuck Haering usually alternates every year in coaching with Chris and his other son, Mark, who is a highly successful high school head coach in Pueblo, Colo.
"Why do I still keep coaching? That's a good question," said the elder Art Walker. "I don't have a super answer. I think it's a combination of things. I think if you still feel you can help kids and help as a coach, then why not?
"Plus, I think the thing that keeps me coming back is I enjoy so much working with my son and seeing the job he's doing. There are millions of fathers who don't get an opportunity like this."
The past few years, the older Walker said he has doubted he would come back for the next season. But he still does it, driving every day from Mt. Lebanon to North Allegheny in Wexford. This season, he thought he might stay home from Thursday practices and Saturday coaches meetings. But he's still around those days.
"What else am I going to do in the fall?" Walker said. "It keeps you busy, active and being around young people is really enjoyable."
You might think having two Art Walkers on the coaching staff might cause a problem for players in addressing the coaches. Not at North Allegheny.
"The kids just call him Senior or Coach Senior," young Art said, with a laugh.
These old, former head coaches still have a bounce in their step, too. They have overcome some health problems and coach intensely. The elder Art Walker beat prostate cancer. Tony Ruscitto has bounced back from his health problems. Zeglowitsch come back from a heart attack a few years ago and skin cancer.
At Penn-Trafford John Wiley lives in the basement of his son's home Monday through Friday. Dad spends Saturdays and Sundays with his wife in Titusville.
"To be as active as my Dad is, and as sharp, energized, intense and competitive as he is, I think he's inspiring, and not just to me," young Art Walker said. "The way he's able to get along with young players is special in itself.
"I'm lucky because I have a great relationship with him -- on and off the sidelines. When he was coaching at Mt. Lebanon, I went to Baldwin High School, so he never coached me. He has said to me that's one of the things he regrets, not having the opportunity to coach me. In a way, maybe this is making up for a little of that."
The elder Walker believes one of the reasons more coaches are working for their sons is because of a change in the retirement laws in Pennsylvania. It wasn't all that long ago that if a person retired as a teacher, he could not coach. If he coached, he would risk losing his pension. Such laws eventually changed.
"I know my wife told me I had to get a paper route or do this," Zeglowitsch said, chuckling. "I could see where some father-son situations wouldn't work because the philosophies between the two are so different. But us old guys are kind of bio-degradable. We can bend and stretch. ... If you had gotten away from the game as a coach, but still loved the game and wanted to be around kids, why wouldn't you want to work for your son?"
On the college level, new University of Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin hired his father, Monte, to be the team's defensive coordinator this season, at a salary of a little over $1 million a year. The WPIAL fathers coaching with their sons might be making a few thousand dollars, at the most.
"It's not that we talk that much about coaching together," said Mike Bosnic Jr. "But I know it's something we both cherish."
At New Castle, the Hurricanes have had successful quarterbacks the past few seasons in a spread offense. The elder Frank Bongivengo coaches those quarterbacks.
"My dad pulls no punches with me. If he disagrees with something I did, he tells me," said Frank Bongivengo II. "Our kids love him, and I absolutely cherish every moment I am with him. This is like a dream come true.
"A lot of people don't get to work and walk in their father's footsteps -- with him alongside."
First Published October 16, 2009 12:00 am